COVID-19 puts safety in companies under great pressure


Eddie van der Wereld. InTense COO.
HSE employees worldwide are ringing the alarm because they can no longer do their work optimally. Working from home, they no longer play the role that is essential for maintaining and developing the safety culture in the organization. That their role has not been designated as business-critical and that a safety impasse has been created. In addition, they signal that investments in safe and healthy work are being postponed or adjusted. They have genuine fear of what this means for the (safety) culture in their organization.

Trust in each other

Characteristic features of companies with a proactive safety culture are the mutual trust between the employees from management to the shop floor and vice versa and the willingness to always provide each other with the correct information, so that the right decisions are made. This is normally fed by frequent mutual contact, personal conversations, consultation and knowing what is going on in the workplace and in the head of the colleagues.

COVID-19 has rigorously minimized human contact. There is a new “normal” of working from home, contact via digital channels and little room for real conversations and looking each other in the eye. In addition, there is uncertainty about the future. This evokes feelings of anxiety and depression which will lead to consequences in the field of mental health and well-being. Work safely and healthily has thus acquired a deeper dimension. Without giving it proper attention, the development and maintenance of a proactive culture threatens to fall on a slippery slope: slowly but surely, control over the organization and colleagues is lost.

How is your business doing?

Especially nowadays, HSE is of great importance in this broader context. And HSE employees must be given plenty of space to perform their work optimally. To put the thermometer in your organization, the following questions:

  • Is HSE in your company currently classified as business critical?
  • Do your HSE people work from home or can they be present on the shop floor?
  • Are there active discussions between employees and managers about HSE-related topics?
  • Is attention paid to the mental aspects of COVID-19 and the effects on your employees?
  • Is there still investment in safe and healthy work behavior or is this being postponed or adjusted?
  • Do you notice an increasing amount of near misses and/or HSE incidents?

If your answers are predominantly “no”, it is recommended to reconsider whether the chosen strategy around COVID-19 and to work safely and healthily is the right one. If your answers are predominantly “yes”, you show that you and your company embrace the full breadth of the COVID-19 challenges and have mapped out a sophisticated strategy. It will give your company a competitive advantage over your peers.

By designating HSE as business-critical in these times and by giving it even broader meaning, you can reach multiple objectives:

  • Safeguarding the values and standards of the company when it comes to safe and healthy work.
  • Keep building the professionalism of your people to shape, propagate, stimulate and monitor the HSE policy.
  • Ensure essential information flows in the organization and building trust between people, especially at a time when this is extra difficult because many people work from distance and isolated.
  • Sustained development of people gives an edge over the competition that is sitting still, postponing or downsizing those investments.
  • Minimize the chance of incidents and accidents not only in workplace, but also in terms of health (personal safety).

COVID-19 is challenging enough on its own. As a company, choose to remain proactive and resist the temptation to “just” not invest in your people or see HSE as “just” less important. Because then “complacency” becomes your worst enemy, with all potential incidents and accidents as a possible consequence. Your people are your most important asset. Support them to keep working safely and healthily. That will ultimately result in excellence in business performance…

Over the past 25 years, InTense has trained, coached and guided more than 100,000 employees of companies around the world towards a reinforced mindset regarding safe and healthy work, exemplary behavior and safety leadership.